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Finding Biographical Information: Getting Started

How much information do you need?

The first step when searching for information about a person is to decide how much information you want. This will have a major effect on where you look, because there are sources with brief factual information all the way up to full-length books with deep analysis.

If you need a full-length biography, read the section in the box to the right. 

The sources listed on the following pages have briefer information, anywhere from a paragraph to several pages. 

Who are you looking for?

The second step in looking for biographical information is to focus your search. Many biography sources specialize in their coverage. Think about the following factors.

Why Is the Person Famous?

Many sources of brief biographies are dedicated to specific subjects, such as writers, scientists, politicians, etc.

When Did the Person Live?

Some sources only cover living people, some only dead, some are a mix. Also think about how long a living person had been famous. The more recent the person, the less likely it is they will appear in reference sources. Magazine articles and the web are probably going to be more useful.

Where Did the Person Live?

Some sources only cover Americans, some only non-Americans.

Book-Length Biographies

If you want an entire book about a person, you may want to checkout a book at the library. Public libraries usually have separate sections for biographies, but college libraries mix them in with the other books on a topic. For example, biographies of musicians will be in the music section.


  • If you already know the title of a specific biography, search the library by selecting Title from the dropdown menu in the library search tool and type the title of the book in the search bar.   

Search by title in the library catalog


  • If you are looking for a biography of a specific person, select General Subjects from the dropdown menu in the library search tool and  type the person's last name and then first name in the search bar.
  • If you want biographies of people in a specific discipline, use the Keywords section and type in the discipline and the word "biography," for example: mathematicians and biography.
When you find a book listed in the search results that looks good, write down the call number. This is the address for the book on the shelf. Be sure to see if the book is available and if it's at your library. Books that are checked out can be reserved for you when they're returned. Books at other campuses can be sent to you. Ask the library staff about this process.
Books about a person are usually shelved together, so when you look for the call number for a book, look at the other titles nearby.

Books are shelved by subject- if you find one you like- browse for more in the same area!

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